Macbeth Act 5, Scenes 1–4 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 5, Scenes 1–4 Summary and Analysis

Act 5, Scene 1

In an antechamber in the castle of Dunsinane, a doctor is talking to a gentlewoman who attends Lady Macbeth as her lady-in-waiting. The gentlewoman has called the doctor because Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking. As the doctor questions her, Lady Macbeth enters with a candle. Though she walks, it is clear that she is asleep and perceives nothing around her. As the doctor and gentlewoman watch, she begins to rub her hands and then speaks, behaving as though Macbeth is there are they are washing their hands after the murder of Duncan. She appears distressed—though she never did during the actual murder—and imagines that she is unable to wash her hands clean of the blood, crying out that “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” As she raves, she also references the murders of Banquo and Lady Macduff, disconcerting the doctor and gentlewoman even further. Finally, Lady Macbeth returns to bed. The doctor admits that he can do nothing for her disease, suggesting that Lady Macbeth’s sickness has been brought on by her own actions (“unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles;”). He merely tells the gentlewoman to look after her and departs, saying that he dare not speak about the horrible scene he has witnessed.

Act 5, Scene 2

Lennox, Menteith, Caithness, and Angus enter at the head of an army. They refer to another army from England—led by Malcolm, Macduff, and Siward—that is nearby, close to Birnam Wood. Both armies are soon to attack Dunsinane, bringing retribution to Macbeth who, the thanes think, must now be feeling the precariousness of his position and regretting his many crimes. Those who still follow Macbeth, they observe, only do so because they are afraid.

Act 5, Scene 3

Inside the Castle of Dunsinane, Macbeth is possessed by frantic energy. He clings to the witches’ prophecies, reassuring himself that Birnam Wood can never come to Dunsinane and that “the boy Malcolm” was clearly born of woman. Hearing that the English forces are near, he decides to put on his armor. The doctor who has been attending Lady Macbeth explains to Macbeth that his wife suffers from an illness of the mind, not of the body. Macbeth orders the doctor to cure her diseased mind, but the doctor replies that in these cases, only the patient has the power to heal themselves (“Therein the patient / Must minister to himself”). The doctor comments to himself that if he was away from the castle, no amount of money could tempt him to return.

Act 5, Scene 4

The English and Scottish armies have joined forces, and are bearing down upon Dunsinane. As they pass Birnam Wood, Malcolm commands every soldier to cut a bough from one of the trees and hold it in front of him as they approach the castle so that it will not be clear to Macbeth how great their numbers are. Malcolm, Macduff, and Siward discuss what Macbeth will do, concluding that he will stay inside the castle and attempt to wait out a siege.

Analysis

Lady Macbeth, a ferocious and commanding presence in acts 1 and 2, fades out of the picture toward the end of the play, as Macbeth himself becomes more overbearing and tyrannical. Act 5, scene 1 is her final appearance, and even allowing for the fact that she is asleep, she seems greatly altered. Indeed, her attitude toward Duncan’s murder is very...

(The entire section is 871 words.)